Friday, 8 May 2015

What Happens After Death? part 4. BY REV. G. J. MACGILLIVRAY, M.A


Every soul that departs from the body in a state of grace must eventually reach Heaven. It may be immediately, or it may be after a period, short or long, of purification in Purgatory. Now, what do we know about Heaven? Certainly we can form no very clear idea of what it is like. It is utterly beyond our power to imagine it. As St. Paul said long ago, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man what things God hath prepared for them that love Him.” We cannot see, we cannot hear, we cannot imagine the joys of Heaven, because they are utterly beyond anything of which we have any experience in this world. And yet God has revealed certain facts about it.
First, then, Heaven is a place of rest, of perfect happiness, of complete satisfaction. That is so because there the soul has reached its goal. It is at the end of its journey. It is, as the theologians say, in termino. Here we are “in via,” on the way. That is why here we are never at rest. We can never be completely satisfied. There is always something more to be desired. Therefore our life is restless, a constant seeking of something new, something more satisfying. Even death does not necessarily bring rest. People sometimes speak in a general way of the dead as being at rest. But they are not necessarily at rest. The souls in Hell are certainly not at rest, and never will be. Even the souls in Purgatory are not yet at rest. That is why we continue to pray for them, “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine”- “eternal rest give unto them, O Lord.” The souls in Purgatory are still restless, because they are still unsatisfied, still waiting for the consummation of their joy. No, it is only when the soul has reached Heaven that it is at rest, because then it has reached its goal. This rest, however, does not mean inactivity, idleness, or stagnation. That could never be a state of happiness. Perfect happiness was defined long ago by Aristotle as a perfect activity. And that is the life of Heaven. It is intense activity, but a restful, peaceful activity, without effort, strain, or weariness. The soul is at rest, because it is perfectly satisfied. It has no fear, no anxiety, no unsatisfied desire.
But what is it that so completely satisfies the soul in Heaven? It is no created object, but God Himself. The soul is satisfied because it possesses God, the infinite Good. We must not think of the happiness of Heaven as the possession of one finite object of happiness after another, a mere never ending succession of finite joys. That would not be complete satisfaction, because it would leave always something more to be desired. Heaven is not that. It is the complete possession, all at once and eternally, of the infinite Source of all happiness, which is God Himself. Nothing less could satisfy the immense capacity for happiness of the human soul.
In Heaven we shall possess God. That is to say that we shall be perfectly united with Him in mind and will, in knowledge and in love. We are told that in Heaven we shall “see” God. “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.” “We see now through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I am known.” Indeed this “Beatific Vision” of God is often spoken of as the essential happiness of Heaven. Of course this does not mean that we shall see Him with our bodily eyes. That is manifestly impossible, for God is a Spirit and invisible. Moreover, the Saints in Heaven now, with the exception of our Blessed Lady, have no bodily eyes, and will have none until the resurrection in the last day, and yet they certainly enjoy the Beatific Vision. No, it is an intellectual vision, a vision of the mind. We get a little nearer the fact, if we consider how we grasp ideas with the mind. We often speak of that purely intellectual process as “seeing.” We “see” things with the mind when we grasp them intellectually. But that falls very far short of the way in which we shall apprehend God in the Beatific Vision. For it is not the mere idea of God that we shall grasp, but God Himself. We cannot understand that now, because we have not the necessary faculty. In Heaven it will be possible because of what is called the “Lumen Gloria,” the Light of Glory. That is a supernatural gift, which the Saints have in Heaven, and which so raises the powers of the soul that it is able to perceive God directly, without bodily eyes and without the help even of any ideas. It does not see God outside itself, but within the very substance of its own being. It finds God in itself, and itself in God, so that it knows Him, as it were, from within the depths of His own Being.
To see God! How can we get some notion of what that means? In this world we dimly perceive a few of God’s works. We are delighted by the innumerable beauties of form and colour and sound, the glories of nature, of art, of music. Still higher is the intellectual happiness, when we explore and grasp with the mind some of the hidden secrets of nature. As we explore further and further, we are lost in admiration at the wonders of God’s works. And a higher happiness still, for those who are capable of it, is to Contemplate purely abstract truth, to try to grasp something of the hidden truth that lies behind the things that appear to the senses. But all these things are mere dim reflections of the uncreated, infinite Being of God, who is the Source of them all. He is the plenitude of Being, Being itself, comprising in Himself all Truth and all Beauty, or rather He is Himself all Truth and all Beauty. What must be the joy of seeing Him as He is in that unimaginable intimacy of the Beatific Vision!
But this union of mind with Mind implies something further. It implies a perfect union of love, a union of perfect friendship. It was said by God in the beginning that “it is not good for man to be alone.” We know how true that is. We cannot live in loneliness, in isolation. Our nature requires that we enter into relations of love and friendship with others. That constitutes our chief source of happiness in this world. And yet it is in this that we are never completely satisfied. There is no friendship in the world which is completely and lastingly satisfying, In the best of friends there is always something wanting, and, even if we could find a perfect friend, perfect union with him would be impossible. There is always a large part of our inner life, which we must live alone, which we can share with no human being.
But all that is wanting here we shall find in Heaven in God. For there God will give Himself to us in the most real and intimate friendship. It is an overwhelming thought, that God Himself, the infinite God; should be our Friend. But it is true. God will give Himself to us without reserve, and we shall give ourselves without reserve to Him. We shall be united in so perfect a love that we shall, as it were, lose ourselves in Him. We must, however, beware here of the idea found in many Eastern mystics, that we shall be so absorbed in God as to lose our own individuality and personality. That is not the case. We shall keep our own individuality. But, short of losing that, it is impossible to exaggerate the closeness of the union between God and the soul in Heaven.
People sometimes ask whether we shall find and recognise our earthly friends in Heaven. Certainly we shall. There is no doubt about that. We shall find them in God, for in God we shall find everything that is necessary to our happiness. And not only shall we know them, but we shall know them in a far more intimate way than was ever possible here. We shall find them free from all imperfections, and we shall have far more intimate union with them. And not only shall we and those whom we have known and loved here on earth, but a host of other friends. First and above all Will be Jesus Christ our Lord in His Sacred Humanity. For He remains Man as well as God eternally, and will be in Heaven for ever the centre of redeemed humanity, our glorious King, but also the most intimate Friend of every one. We have known something of that loving friendship even here on earth, possessing Him, as we do, in the Blessed Sacrament. But how much more wonderful to see Him face to face in His glory, and to live for ever in His love! Then there will be the Blessed Mother of God, that gracious, tender Mother, whom we have learnt to love so dearly, though as yet we have never seen her face. Second only to her Son, she will be the unspeakable joy of all who have learnt to love her on earth. And then all the holy Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Virgins-all those holy men and women, known and unknown, all will be our friends and loving companions there. We shall find them and love them all in God.